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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Austen-Leigh’s & Le Faye’s “creative” editing: the erasure of Wyndham Knatchbull the younger

In my immediately preceding post, I pointed out the striking parallelism between the compliment paid to the 35 year old Jane Austen by Wyndham Knatchbull and the compliment paid to the late thirties Mrs. Weston by Frank Churchill. After I posted that, I Googled, and found that I am not the first to notice that parallelism. Here’s what John Mullan had to say about it in his recent book What Matters in Jane Austen:

“…Later, we should be aware again of Mrs. Weston’s age so that we see the suspect glitter of Frank Churchill’s gallantry when he tells Emma in their first conversation that , anticipating his father’s new wife, he had ‘not expected more than a very tolerably well-looking woman of a certain age; I did not know that I was to find a pretty young woman”. At the age of thirty five, the author was herself the object of a similar flourish of flattery on the party of Wyndham Knatchbull, who, at a London evening gathering, apparently called her ‘A pleasing looking young woman’. She reported the comment to Cassandra, adding ‘that must do-one cannot pretend to anything better now-thankful to have it continued a few years longer.’ Coming from Knatchbull, a London merchant in his sixties, the compliment was more genuine than if it had come from a Frank Churchill, a keen-eyed young man in his early twenties.” END QUOTE

There you have a perfect example of how Le Faye’s unacknowledged “creative” annotating of JA’s letters – by her not revealing to her readers that there were actually two plausible “Wyndham Knatchbulls” who could have paid JA that compliment---has led to another Austen scholar, John Mullan, making an excellent catch of a striking parallel, but then making a tame interpretation of  same, because Mullan was unaware that JA wrote Frank Churchill’s compliment as a specific allusion to the one she received in real life as she was writing Emma!

I have another tidbit to add regarding Wyndham Knatchbull the younger—it turns out that JA, in her 11/08/1800 letter to Cassandra, thanked her sister for passing along to JA a bit of apparently uncharitable gossip about “Charlotte Graham”, who just happened to be a maternal aunt of Wyndham Knatchbull the younger!

“I thank you for so speedy a return to my two last, and particularly thank you for your anecdote of Charlotte Graham and her cousin, Harriet Bailey, which has very much amused both my mother and myself.  If you can learn anything farther of that interesting affair, I hope you will mention it….”

And this passage just happens to be included in JEAL’s 1870 Memoir. And that might seem strange, given that it seems to make fun of a named person, and JEAL was known for expunging such “improprieties” from JA’s letters. So, we may ask, why did JEAL choose to keep that passage?

I think we find a clue to the answer in the following passage in Emily Auerbach’s “Searching for Jane Austen: Restoring the “Fleas” and “Bad Breath” “ in Persuasions Online #27:

“…Almost every page of the Memoir contains an omission or alteration, usually without any indication that this is occurring... Readers of the Memoir also miss hearing her snipe about an unwelcome visitor, “Wyndham Knatchbull is to be asked for Sunday, & if he is cruel enough to consent, somebody must be contrived to meet him.” END QUOTE

Now, I don’t believe for a second that JEAL cut out that particular line about Wyndham Knatchbull, because JEAL thought it was a “snipe about an unwelcome visitor” . He deleted it, I suggest, because he feared that including it might have offended Lord Brabourne, the son of Edward Knatchbull, and future editor of the first edition of JA’s letters, with whom JEAL wished to remain on good terms. I.e., had JEAL not deleted that sentence, readers might have read JA’s (to me, clearly ironic and flirtatious) take on the charming young Wyndham Knatchbull, the man who might well have married Lord Brabourne’s mother, Fanny Knight, instead of the man who actually did marry her, Wyndham’s older half brother, Edward!

But, as I pointed out above, when JEAL had the opportunity to put in the Memoir a passage that mocked Wyndham the younger’s mother---well, that was apparently perfectly fine!

And that might have been all I had for this post, except….. I never pass an opportunity to catch JEAL in yet another act of deceptive editing, in his 1870 Memoir, of his famous Aunt Jane’s letters. So I picked up on Auerbach’s excellent cue, and decided to check out what else JEAL chose to delete from Letter 97 dated 3/2/1814, to see if it would illuminate things a bit more—and as you will see, it did! So now, without further, here is JA’s Letter 97:

‘You were wrong in thinking of us at Guildford last night: we were at Cobham.  On reaching G. we found that John and the horses were gone on.  We therefore did no more than we had done at Farnham—sit in the carriage while fresh horses were put in, and proceeded directly to Cobham, which we reached by seven, and about eight were sitting down to a very nice roast fowl, &c.  We had altogether a very good journey, and everything at Cobham was comfortable.  I could not pay Mr. Harrington!  That was the only alas! of the business.  I shall therefore return his bill, and my mother’s 2l., that you may try your luck.  We did not begin reading till Bentley Green.  Henry’s approbation is hitherto even equal to my wishes.  He says it is different from the other two, but does not appear to think it at all inferior.  He has only married Mrs. R.  I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part.  He took to Lady B. and Mrs. N. most kindly, and gives great praise to the drawing of the characters.  He understands them all, likes Fanny, and, I think, foresees how it will all be.  I finished the “Heroine” last night, and was very much amused by it.  I wonder James did not like it better.  It diverted me exceedingly.  We went to bed at ten.  I was very tired, but slept to a miracle, and am lovely to-day, and at present Henry seems to have no complaint.  We left Cobham at half-past eight, stopped to bait and breakfast at Kingston, and were in this house considerably before two. 

[DELETED TEXT:  “quite in the stile of Mr. Knight.”] 

MY COMMENT: Although Le Faye doesn’t footnote the reference to “Mr. Knight”, she does very quietly and almost invisibly confirm in her Index that this is none other than Edward Austen Knight—JA’s referring to her brother as if he were merely an acquaintance, and the ironic tone of “quite in the stile of”, both suggest some sort of dig at brother Edward—but what exactly JA is mocking, I frankly can’t figure it out. But what’s most important is that this shows that JEAL was indeed very careful to delete a dig by JA at Edward Austen Knight, who was, of course, Lord Brabourne’s maternal grandfather! Now back to Letter 97:

“Nice smiling Mr. Barlowe met us at the door and, in reply to enquiries after news, said that peace was generally expected.  I have taken possession of my bedroom, unpacked my bandbox, sent Miss P.’s two letters to the twopenny post, been visited by Md. B., and am now writing by myself at the new table in the front room.  It is snowing.  We had some snowstorms  yesterday, and a smart frost at night, which gave us a hard road from Cobham to Kingston; but as it was then getting dirty and heavy, Henry had a pair of leaders put on to the bottom of Sloane St.  His own horses, therefore, cannot have had hard work.  I watched for veils as we drove through the streets, and had the pleasure of seeing several upon vulgar heads. 

MY COMMENT:  And I note here the “dog” that didn’t “bark”--- there is NO deletion by JEAL of that extremely snide remark by JA, which sounds uncannily like Sir Walter Elliot’s sneering comments about the passing parade in Bath—so it shows that JEAL’s so-called Victorian sensitivity to vulgarity within the confines of Letter 97, was extremely selective! And now back again to Letter 97:

“And now, how do you all do?—you in particular, after the worry of yesterday and the day before.  I hope Martha had a pleasant visit again, and that you and my mother could eat your beef-pudding.  Depend upon my thinking of the chimney-sweeper as soon as I wake to-morrow.  Places are secured at Drury Lane for Saturday, but so great is the rage for seeing Kean that only a third and fourth row could be got; as it is in a front box, however, I hope we shall do pretty well—Shylock, a good play for Fanny—she cannot be much affected, I think.  Mrs. Perigord has just been here.  She tells me that we owe her master for the silk-dyeing.  My poor old muslin has never been dyed yet.  It has been promised to be done several times.  What wicked people dyers are.  They begin with dipping their own souls in scarlet sin. 

MY COMMENT:  At this point, JEAL deleted a reference to JA having received and promptly redirected 6.15 pounds that originally were intended to reach Mrs. Austen’s account. I have no clue why JEAL deleted that.

“It is evening.  We have drank tea, and I have torn through the third vol. of the “Heroine.”  I do not think it falls off.  It is a delightful burlesque, particularly on the Radcliffe style.  Henry is going on with “Mansfield Park.”  He admires H.  Crawford: I mean properly, as a clever, pleasant man.  I tell you all the good I can, as I know how much you will enjoy it. 

[DELETED TEXT: “John Warren & his wife are invited to dine here, to name their own day in the next fortnight. - I do not expect them to come. - Wyndham Knatchbull is to be asked for Sunday, & if he is cruel enough to consent, somebody must be contrived to meet him.”]

MY COMMENT: And now we see further confirmation of the irony I read in JA’s comment about Wyndham Knatchbull being “cruel enough to consent” to come visit---in the immediately preceding sentence, we read JA being sarcastic about the Warrens accepting the wide open invitation for them to visit. So JA is seen to be in a flow of irony and sarcasm about the falseness of “friends”.

And now, note how JEAL sharpens his editorial scissors even more minutely:

“We hear that Mr. Kean is more admired than ever.” 

[DELETED TEXT: “The two vacant places of our two rows, are likely to be filled by Mr Tilson & his Brother Genl Chownes. - I shall be ready to laugh at the sight of Frederick again. - It seems settled that I have the carriage on friday to pay visits, I have therefore little doubt of being able to get to Miss Hares. I am to call upon Miss Spencer: Funny me!”]

MY COMMENT: Right after that last deletion, JEAL returns to the text of Letter 97 solely to retain the single short sentence about Kean being admired more than ever, and then immediately deletes the next few sentences! Now, I guess Le Faye is correct in her speculation that “Frederick” (which was not General Chownes’s Christian name) was a veiled reference to the soldier son who returns home in Lovers Vows and almost kills his bio father Baron Wildenhaim---but I think JA may have had an even more satirical meaning than just that---was she perhaps suggesting that General Chownes, who (exactly like Jane’s brother Edward) was a third eldest child who was chosen by a dying relative to change his surname and inherit an estate, was (like Frederick vis a vis Baron Wildenhaim) actually the illegitimate son of that relative?
I suspect that JEAL deleted the next sentence, about JA’s being almost giddy with the prospect of having a carriage at her disposal to take her where she wants on Friday, because it strongly implied that this was an extraordinarily rare privilege for JA during her life—and so JEAL didn’t want his readers to suspect that JEAL might not have been totally content with her utter lack of self-directed mobility to get around.

“There are no good places to be got in Drury Lane for the next fortnight, but Henry means to secure some for Saturday fortnight, when you are reckoned upon. 

[DELETED TEXT: “I wonder what worse thing than Sarah Mitchell you are forced upon by this time!”]

MY COMMENT: Le Faye does not even attempt a footnote for this cryptic comment, but the phrase ‘forced upon by this time” sounds somewhat ominous for CEA.

“Give my love to little Cass.  I hope she found my bed comfortable last night 

[DELETED TEXT: “…& has not filled it with fleas.”]

As Auerbach noted, it’s pretty obvious that this was not a joke that JEAL found particularly funny.

And I leave with the observation that I find nothing funny-and a lot disturbing—in JEAL’s (and Le Faye’s) abuse of the trust of their readers, by making it so hard to see the true Jane Austen, at just the moments when it would be most meaningful.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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